Identifying alternative preservatives

Dr Evangelia Komitopoulou, Head of Food Safety, Leatherhead Food ResearchThe identification of alternative preservatives involves a step-by-step approach, from undertaking a systematic review, to experimental design and antimicrobial screening trials. This can be a time-consuming process and involves specialised skills and equipment. Leatherhead’s Food Preservation team has the expertise and resources available to save you time as well as provide you with expert evaluations and regulatory advice.

Step-by-step approach
It is often the case that the first step in the process of identifying alternative preservatives involves a critical and systematic review of publically available information. To do this, you need to have access to the right information, know what is relevant and what isn’t, be able to read between the lines and use your knowledge and expertise to critically review information that will help you form the shortlist of candidate alternative actives. This is the step in the process that will guide not only the selection of candidate preservatives, but also the methodologies to be used in the preservative screening trials and can also form the basis for the interpretation of the results obtained later on in the process.

The experimental design to be followed covers the protocol of the methodology to be used (i.e. type of assay, number of replicates, set of controls, selection of target micro-organisms, growth, etc.) and it determines the validity of the results obtained and the overall credibility of the study. As such, trial design requires specific skills and expertise. It also requires working under the appropriate quality control systems to ensure the overall quality and traceability of the results obtained.

Antimicrobial activity screening trials usually result in a vast number of data that describe the activity of the different compounds against a number of different micro-organisms. The ability to go through the results in a systematic way and identify specific activity trends and patterns is a unique skill. In most cases, recommendations for future work would involve suggestions for using combinations of different compounds and this would require a broad knowledge of the chemistry of the compounds and their mode of action that would allow their combined activity in a food matrix to be predicted.

From concept to market
Under Leatherhead’s Food Preservation service umbrella, we employ a multi-disciplinary, concept-to-market approach (Regulatory/Process Optimisation/Reformulation/Sensory) to investigate the microbiological safety of foods, and the methods and processes used to control pathogens and spoilage micro-organisms in a wide variety of foodstuffs. We are able to carry out systematic reviews and real-time evaluations of the efficacy, applicability and appropriateness of different groups of antimicrobial compounds (e.g. bacteriocins, lactoferrins, lactates, plant extracts, etc.) on a laboratory and pilot-plant scale, advise you on their regulatory status, their labelling implications and impact on the sensory properties of your products.

This article first appeared in the September 2011 issue of FoodCom.

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